By Bev & Phil Haas
The best idea we’ve heard recently comes from the insights of Dr. Chap Clark, Professor and Chair of the Youth, Family, and Culture department in the School of Theology at Fuller Seminary. Clark has been saying to leaders in the church that we need to reverse the ministry adult-to-kid ratio. What exactly does he mean by that?
Many children and student ministries strive to have a 1:5 ratio of adults to kids (meaning one adult for every five kids) for their small groups. Dr. Clark says we need to reverse that ratio and have five adults caring for each kid. He’s not talking about five small group leaders per child. He’s talking about five caring adults whom parents enlist to invest in their kid in little, medium, and big ways. This is a new take on the old idea of mentoring.
Benefits of Mentors for Your Kids
Everywhere you can hear the stories of teens whose lives have been changed by a caring adult.
Bev’s grandmother, Francis Farris, believed in her and encouraged her to be a teacher. After more than 30 years, Bev still loves teaching middle school students and making a difference in their lives. Mark Johnson was a youth minister who took an interest in Phil and encouraged him to enter the ministry. Almost 40 years later, Phil is still doing ministry. Like us, you likely have stories of caring adults from your own youth who pointed you in the right direction.
We know for certain that mentoring matters to positive youth development. Youth are more likely to succeed in life when they have the additional support of a caring adult. Youth with mentors are less likely to engage in risky behavior and are more likely to grow up to become productive members of society. Here are more benefits of having caring adults influence your kids:
• healthier lifestyle choices
• better attitude about school
• higher educational aspirations
• enhanced self-esteem
• improved behavior, both at home and school
• stronger relationships with parents, teachers, and peers
• more likely to hold a leadership position
Forming a Web of Adults
Dr. Kara Powell, Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute, uses the phrase “sticky web of relationships” to describe a team of mentors. At our church we talk about the “high five” when referring to the need to have five caring adults in each kid’s life to support parents. We believe the best approach is an informal web of adult mentors—naturally occurring adult/youth relationships.
Look around you at those who spend time with your kids already. Is there a grandparent, aunt, or uncle who your kids are especially close with? Is there a teacher or coach in your child’s life who shares your values? Those involved in church already have several caring adults who are with their kids on a weekly basis.
Mentors are not meant to replace a parent or guardian—instead mentors echo their positive values. As with most aspects of parenting, you have to be intentional. Talk to these adults and let them know you appreciate their involvement with your kids and that you consider them part of your high five. There’s no need to keep what you’re trying to do a secret.
Tony Dungy, the Super Bowl-winning coach of the Indianapolis Colts, talked about the impact other adults made on his son. Back when Tony’s son was playing high school football, Tony knew the energy that both school and football drained out of players. So Tony urged his teen to have more than a Pop Tart for breakfast. The son blew off Dad’s advice. But one morning Tony saw that his son had gotten up early to make a big breakfast of bacon and eggs. Tony was tickled that his son had finally taken his advice, so he commented, “I see you’re having a bigger breakfast today.” His son looked up and replied, “Yeah, my coach said I should.” This teen was living with one of the most respected NFL coaches in the nation, but since that coach happened to be his dad, he refused to heed his suggestion. It was his high school coach who finally got through!
Other adults are often able to speak into our kids’ lives in a way that we as their parents cannot. We agree with Chap Clark and Kara Powell that every parent should surround their kids with five other adults to create a sticky web of relationships to guide them in the right direction. Start a high five for each of your kids.
Bev and Phil Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They have two children and two grandsons. Send your questions about family life to Bev and Phil Haas in care of The Lookout (firstname.lastname@example.org). We regret that personal replies are not always possible.